Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The UEA: The Legislature's All-Purpose Excuse

OK, I know I don’t have tons of people reading and commenting on this, but I don’t see a reasonable basis for all the hatred. The UEA advocates for many educational improvements such as smaller class sizes, along with higher teacher salaries, and most Utahns support that cause. Jesse
thinks the UEA are scammers
because they haven’t achieved higher salaries:

My biggest problem with all teachers' unions is that they are ineffective at their core mission and thus are a corrupt drag on teacher salaries. Despite more than doubling inflation-adjusted education spending over the last four decades, teacher salaries have been flat during the same period. That's a pretty crappy job negotiating compensation for the rather large budgets that unions work with.

I just can't see how a group powerful enough to stare down the legislature can tuck tail and run when confronting district superintendents, you know? I wonder how long it'll take before teachers figure out they're being scammed.
December 31, 2007 1:17 PM

Both the NEA and AFT (page 3, PDF) show flat teacher salaries in separate surveys.

...(and some other stuff)…
December 31, 2007 3:42 PM

I can't agree. I discussed this with a bunch of old-timers and no one felt there was some unrealized windfall we’d been swindled out of. What grand pot of money were we supposed to take drastically higher salaries from? Construction costs and growth alone account for most of the increase in spending. We also know we need computer labs, copy machines, test sheet scanners, software, training, etc. These costs differ GREATLY from the paper, pencil, chalk, and dittos of the past. The legislature hasn’t increased spending with that in mind. The needs have increased and funding has just barely kept pace with the growth. I think teachers in general sympathize with the difficulties in funding the large number of students in Utah from a smaller tax base. We can almost feel guilty when we see firsthand many of the families that struggle with taxes, but we also need some way to plan for the future if you want anyone teaching as a primary career. I was surprised to learn how many teachers’ salaries qualified their kids for reduced lunches in past years. I would have qualified for WIC if my wife hadn’t been doing extra babysitting while pregnant or if our second had come a year earlier.

Whoa. Just checked and I’m fairly certain we qualify now. I even had kids a little later than the average BYU guy. The point is, teachers are not just being whiny when they qualify for federally subsidized food. You’re not supposed to spend above something like 28% of your gross income on housing to be financially stable. Say you have a $1000 monthly payment for a $12000 yearly commitment to your mortgage. (At that price, you’re either getting a great deal on your interest rate or living in a very modest home. If you want your family to grow, good luck.) That translates to a yearly salary of $42,857 if you want to live at the threshold of fiscal responsibility. Here’s the salary schedule for Alpine School District:


Even tossing in savings from our admittedly good health insurance obtained from the large state-employee pool discount rates, how long until you can buy a home without moving to Genola? Surprised a lot of teachers quit in the first 5 years? And as salary increases, a lot of you know more than I do about the increasing costs of your growing family as well. (A 25-year teacher just told me he’s paying $150 more a month in insurance now that his 16-year-old son is driving. Ouch! I need to call my parents and retroactively thank them profusely.)

But with all this, teachers see firsthand at school that there are financial needs all over, and that is precisely why they DON’T go nuts and strike constantly. AND, while I believe Jesse is sincere, honestly tell me that UEA critics wouldn’t go nuts if we HAD gotten high percentage salary increases at the expense of the technology and extra classrooms that the funding went to. It’s a rock and a hard place for teachers. The same rock and a hard place hold true for the legislature, but the UEA gets demonized while having almost no real power.

I vaguely remember a strike from elementary/middle school years, and I was out of the country during the last strike in the late 90's. My school AEA rep says those two strikes made him disassociate from the union for awhile, and I would tend to agree with him. I want to be in the classroom even when I'm annoyed at the legislature. I only know only one teacher at my school, a California transplant who thinks the teachers should fight much harder for higher salaries like in his home state, who would support something like that. But that illustrates the true lack of power of the UEA. They make a lot of noise and get news coverage...and what? Senator Dayton mentioned how mad she felt over the UEA's "paving over the backs of students" ad campaign a couple years ago. (The legislature assigned tons of surplus to transportation in '06 when polls and the UEA wanted more for education. I feel we direly need both and it's a tough call, but I definitely believe that many legislators have a personal grudge against education.) The legislature was pilloried in editorials and in polls, but….the money still got assigned to roads, none of the Republicans got ousted (well, PCE picked off a few anti-voucher Republicans, but with other Republicans), and business went on as usual. Polls support better funding for education all the time, but legislators know that doesn't translate to the ballot box. How many teachers are there compared with habitual Republicans? The UEA has some token influence and gets some publicity, but the public only got really mad and acted with the rich money grab of vouchers.

Here’s two great posts from the Edu Blah Blah Blahg that sum it up well:

The Utah Education Association- we are not evil
I read a post on the Utah Amicus quoting a letter which stated,

"Why have we entrusted the education of our children to the faceless names of the Utah Education Association?"

In other words, "Why have we entrusted the education of our children to teachers?"

Well, I'm pleased to inform the general letter-writing public that UEA members (aka teachers) have names and faces (as both help when teaching).

This leads to one of the things that consistently bothers me about anti-union rhetoric. Many people who speak against the UEA regard it as an automaton with no heart. It doesn't take much effort to learn that the UEA is all teachers, through and through. Even the VP, Ellen Thompson, is still expected to be a classroom teacher while meeting all the obligations of her office. In fact, the only officer who is not a current classroom teacher is the president, Kim Campbell (understandably, as being UEA president must be a large time commitment).

I am a teacher. I love teaching. I believe in public education. If you've met me, you've met the UEA, and for that matter the NEA. Would you want to entrust your child's education to me? I would hope so.
Posted by andbrooke at Sunday, September 23, 2007

Yep, that's my union
I'm the union rep at my school- a job I've come to enjoy. I've made it a point to learn as much as I can about the union and almost all of what I've learned has been positive. I have yet to learn something about my teacher's union that would make me want to cancel my membership (and I even read Mike Antonucci's blog).

Talking to other teachers, I've heard a lot of different reasons for why they are not members. Some understandable, some absurd. The voucher referendum, though, makes me want to shake them all and ask, "Can't you see what they do for you? This referendum would not have gotten off the ground without the UEA!"

Now the NEA is throwing their weight behind the referendum. This is teachers' money from across the nation (including mine), and they're spending over a million on us. For me, this makes every dues payment worth it. By Nov 6, every penny I've sent them will have come right back to my state, for a cause I believe in.
Posted by andbrooke at Saturday, September 22, 2007


Jesse Harris said...

When industrialized countries spending a significantly smaller percentage of their GDP on education regularly outperform us by wide margins (think Sweden and Japan), I have a hard time believing that our funding effort is the problem. In fact, at 6% of our GDP going towards education, we're spending them all under the table without much to show for it.

We should be figuring out what they've been doing right and try and emulate it here, not trying to widen the spending gap that, to date, hasn't done us a lot of good. I have to honestly ask if there is any solution whatsoever from the UEA that does not involve increased spending. If the answer is no, then I have no use for a group that denies the reality of the situation.

As a side note, I'd be thrilled to see higher teacher salaries instead of tons of technology spending; no amount of technology can compensate for being unable to attract and retain a quality workforce. It's like giving a CAT scanner to a nursing intern.

UtahTeacher said...


Have you looked at the reality of those statistics? Those countries have a significantly smaller percentage of school-age kids in the first place, and they actually educate only a fraction of those students beyond grade school. Read about the crazy testing in Asian countries just to get into high school. They don't allow a full education to average, struggling, or language learning students, let alone test them for comparison to our national tests. Of course they spend less. That goes for Europe as well.

Asian students also live a school lifestyle (10+ hours in school day, expensive tutoring at night, 6-7 days of school per week, high stakes tests that let you go to high school or college or force you into trade schools) that most families here wouldn’t accept, and they teach and learn in a rote style that is HIGHLY debatable if you are talking about desired results beyond memorization and computation. If we compared only our honors classes with their elite high schools that get to stay on an academic track, we’d have a different picture although I’m sure they would still outperform us on sheer amounts of knowledge memorized. But our country, economy, and society are still thriving. Empirical evidence since 1982 shows the Nation at Risk report is an alarmist comparison of apples to watermelons.


I totally agree about some of the glitzy technology, but just basic computer labs capable of running writing programs or app's like Google Earth or Powerpoint, and networks allowing students to log-in from any lab are a huge expense that didn't exist previously. The computers get a lot of use from over 1000 students at my school and maintenance is a big hassle.

My sidenote: I saw Sen. Bramble present in Orem tonight. He bragged about a broadband bill he passed to "help UTOPIA" against Comcast's wishes while discussing what travel costs he accepted from donors. I have no idea which law he is referencing and would love to hear your take on it. I was going to post this to your Utopia blog, but hopefully you'll see it here.

Jesse Harris said...

Actually, Sweden and the United States have about the same percentage of school-aged children and foreign-born citizens. (It took a little digging in the CIA World Factbook to find it.) Sweden also has a significantly higher graduation rate than we do, so I'm thinking that, in this instance, they're outperforming us for less money with the same demographics.

As a professional computer nerd, I don't think it's too hard to setup basic web terminals for everyday users. There's a plethora of free software out there that can turn a decade-old system into a webapp powerhouse. (Look up gOS sometime; I can't believe they make it run on 128MB of RAM.) All it takes is a bit of creativity to get the job done with less money. The kinds of computers I'm talking about are the kinds that school districts are selling at public auction for as little as $7 a pop. Pair that up with some inexpensive LDAP/Kerberos servers and viola, webapps everywhere with a highly managed central login. You could outfit that 1000-user network for about $50,000, tops.

All I'm asking for is a bit of innovation like that before we start opening pocketbooks even further. Give smart people some constraints to worth within and they'll come up with some crazy awesome ideas.

On the side note: Greg Curtis was the one who introduced HB149 in the 2001 General Session, the Municipal Cable Television and Public Telecommunications Services Act, which allows iProvo, SFCN, AFCNet and UTOPIA to exist as they are. (It did, however, pull the rug out from under Provo by barring them from being a retailer.) Interestingly enough, he also voted in favor of HB14 in the 2005 session that prohibited new bonding members for a period of just over two years, a move that made a lot of UTOPIA proponents unhappy since it meant their cities had to wait to join.

UtahTeacher said...


It does indeed appear that Sweden has a great educational system. I am very suspicious about their demographics being so similar, especially foreign-born citizens, income level, and education level. I did some very basic research and found that while they encourage the majority of their students to enter academic high schools, they have to test into those programs and the lower performers stop after 9th grade or enter vocational training. (I think everyone should get high school, but I can see pros and cons for tests to move on and an end to "social promotion.") They also don't incorporate Special Ed. into their normal system. Their comparable test scores benefit from that system. Which is not to say that the US couldn't learn from whatever effective techniques they're using. More to the point, they save a lot of money dropping low performers and Special Ed.

I'll admit that some of your computer lingo went over my head. I for one would love to have a someone who knows what they're doing have free rein to improve basic networks at the school district level. It definitely sounds more creative than however we handle computer purchasing decisions and deployment. Two issues: you have to make it more or less compatible with other district schools and able to upgrade in the future, and you have to use the professional computer nerds who will work for whatever a school will pay you. From what very little I know, it seems like there's industry standard computer "rules" or "standards," and that techies creatively bend or break those rules a lot as they make great networks. Our awesome tech guy got hired away by BYU last year to a more exciting job for a lot more money. Tough choice. Our new guy is substantially less knowledgeable and also claims that the old guy's "shortcuts" left a confusing mess for him. I suspect a more competent individual would have less of a problem. I think it's a real question whether his salary or lack there of is bureaucratic waste or educational necessity. Checking the semi-accurate Tribune salary listings shows the old guy making under $25,000 last year.

And in something of a general government problem rather than a unique school problem, I see them being less prone to experiment with lesser known alternatives on the word of an employee, and more likely to use a heavily contracted, standard approach. This provides a lot of safeguards as well as often being less efficient. That's why I like being on the teaching end, where I feel free to use whatever good techniques I want to try as long as my kids learn the stuff.

Further sidenote: Senator Bramble was referencing whatever law he took the controversial trip to Comcast headquarters in Philadelphia to discuss. It seemed more recent than 2001. He was justifying himself as someone who cannot be bought and came off like a salesman.

Jesse Harris said...

That's more-or-less my point: There are some things other countries (like Sweden) do that we should attempt to emulate. It's not socially acceptable to say so, but... not everyone grows up to be an astronaut. If someone doesn't have an aptitude for academics and knowledge-based industries, we're doing them a grave disservice by forcing them along that path anyway instead of offering alternatives such as vocational training. There's no shame in being a brick layer or auto mechanic (which in many cases pay pretty well).

(As an aside, I remember seeing a position in the Salt Lake City School District a few years ago that was somewhat entry-level paying around $50K a year. Granted, there are some differences in pay between districts and depending on the skills required, but it appears that the salary scale isn't quite *that* bad. $25K a year is less than what you'd make as a bench tech at Best Buy.)

Anonymous said...

My wife is working on a BAE degree and though I support her in doing so I cannot help but think it is a poor choice. I see how the teachers get lousy support from districts, principles and especially parents. And on top of this abuse they get lousy pay. For 180 days, 8 hours a day and an average class size of 27 students a starting teacher if lucky gets $27,000. That is 69 cents per hour per child per hour. Babysitters are paid better! Basically, when it comes to the education of our children the Legislature and District Administrators are the cheapest people on the planet.

I came to Utah 20 years ago. Though I love Utah the attitudes on education are 3rd world. My public school education (born in 53) was 10 times better than what my children (7,9,12,13) now receive. A sad time indeed.

I have heard all the excuses before, big families, etc.. However, it is just an excuse. Look at the salaries of administrators. They are very healthy indeed. The attitude is "as long as I get well paid I don't give a rat's ass what you get paid."

And that is the truth.